Asset Recovery Team meeting is postponed

Minister of Justice Rafael Boasman speaking to MP Claret Connor on Monday after the meeting.

PHILIPSBURG–The continuation of an urgent plenary session of Parliament with Justice Minister Rafael Boasman about the installation of an Asset Recovery Team in May took place Monday afternoon. Boasman answered all questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) in writing. After he read out the answers, the meeting was postponed until a later date.

  The urgent meeting was requested by MPs Franklin Meyers (United People’s party), Frans Richardson (United St. Maarten Party), Rodolphe Samuel (National Alliance) and Perry Geerlings (Democratic Party). The session originally started on May 22 with a continuation on May 23. 

  Boasman said money-based crime poses a serious threat to St. Maarten, Curaçao, Bonaire, Statia and Saba. These forms of crime are not always visible, but they have visible consequences for the citizens. The luxury goods funded by criminal activity and the funded financial resources are a “thorn in the eye” of every honest resident, according to the minister.

  “In order to be able to recover criminally-obtained assets effectively, the assets and money of the suspect will be seized as early as possible in the investigation stage. Seizure of assets is a means of force that can only be used when there is suspicion within the context of detecting criminal offence. Laying of a so-called conservatory attachment requires a separate authorisation from the Judge of Instruction. Seizure of assets should be applied carefully and proportionally,” said Boasman.

Members of Parliament George Pantophlet, Romeo Pantophlet, Rodolphe Samuel and Hyacinth Richardson share a moment during the meeting.   

  The recently-established Asset Recovery Team (Afpakteam) project has been placed on hold until discussions about the functioning of the team have been completed with Parliament. The team comprises police, Coast Guard, tax officials, social insurer SZV, Customs and officers of the Prosecutor’s Office. The team’s responsibility is to seize assets such as homes and other buildings, vehicles, boats and anything of value from persons the Prosecutor’s Office deems suspect.

  Boasman also assured MPs that all Asset Recovery Team actions will be performed in compliance with existing laws and regulations. Judicial rights are guaranteed by law in the existing laws and regulations. The team cannot and will not operate outside of the law.

  MP Claret Connor asked the minister what will happen after assets are seized and sold and Government loses the case. Boasman said that if seized assets are sold and it later it turns out that the judge finds this action unfair, the amount of money received will be returned to the interested party.

  Connor followed up with the question, “In a situation where someone is taking part in a “Partner hand” what is there to protect the individual?” Boasman replied that all actions of the team will be conducted in compliance with the existing legislation. The law guarantees the rights of suspects.    

  The Penal Code and Penal Procedural Code still apply when those involved disagree with the seizure. The matter will then go to the Examining Judge for review.

  Instructions on how the Asset Recovery Team will work are the sole responsibility of the Attorney-General, but the team falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministers of Justice and Finance.

  The team will investigate people who are suspected of having illegally acquired wealth over the years. Those persons will have to prove how they acquired their wealth.

  People who are working normally or maybe inherited property will not be investigated. The team will do an extensive background check first before moving in.

  The meeting was postponed by President of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams after Boasman’s presentation. She said the meeting will be reconvened when the remaining members are back on island. 

Source: The Daily Herald